It's tucked away into the back end of a school building whose glory years are behind it, boasts very little natural light and can be difficult to get to. The setting is sub-optimal for learning, to put it lightly, and the kids who enter the Riverdale electronics-recycling education program are often on the verge of dropping out and have little to no interest in school.
So how did it become one of the most inspiring places for learning in the West Island?
It seems to be partly a result of the impressive group of teachers, administrators and students that make up the Riverdale CFER facility. Housed in an out-of-the-way annex of the Pierrefonds high school, the CFER (Centre de Formation en Entreprise et Récupération ) was recently granted official electronic recycler status by the provincial government, which means it can recycle electronics – of any kind, be they computers, televisions, stereos or even speakers – after the a government decree requiring manufacturers and producers of consumer products that can be recycled to share in the costs of doing so.
"It was a very big step for us," said Lester B. Pearson School Board work-study co-ordinator Sonya Vann last week.
The three-year CFER recycling training program is ideal for kids who don't necessarily learn well in a traditional classroom setting and are referred to the program from Pearson schools, Vann said.
"Our students are identified as students who are struggling in other schools and are in need of something a little bit different. Some have unstable home lives. Some have learning disabilities. Most are working at an elementary level academically," when they arrive, she added.
In the program, students come in at 15, and learn all the skills involved in prepping and binding electronics waste for processing – how to use machinery, how to properly dispose of computer parts and destroy hard drives -- an admitted favourite of many students – forklift operation and what is permitted and what is not in provincial end-of-life electronics recycling.
"Out of 30 students, 15 are certified to operate the forklift," Vann said, adding the facility is now able to pick up used electronics with a used van they purchased last summer using funds they raised through sales to electronics-recycling company E-cycle.
After three years in the program, students receive certification they can take and show employers they are ready for the job market. Many students opt to finish their high-school diploma before entering the work force as well, Vann confirmed.
It's really a win-win situation for the students as well. Students such as Dollard des Ormeaux Chris Gelinas have found a place they can feel comfortable learning after bouncing around from Riverdale's regular stream to alternative-learning centres such as Enterprise and Odyssey, before finding a "home away from home" at the Riverdale CFER.
"The other programs weren't fitting my needs," Gelinas, now 19, said. "I wanted to go to school, but I wanted to be doing stuff. I wanted to be challenged – and here, I am. It's helping me get to what I want. The classroom stuff is not for me. I'm a hands-on person," he said.
Fellow 19-year-old Odane Tomlinson, a Kirkland resident, had a similar story. After falling behind in class at Beaconsfield High School, Tomlinson became a regular in the school's resource room – but felt even that option was not meeting his particular needs.
"I couldn't understand.I would go to the resource room (there), but it just wasn't working for me. I used to be angry all the time. I couldn't cope in school. My self-esteem was low," and he considered dropping out, he said.
Today, both Gelinas and Tomlinson are model students and have become so comfortable as students they make and animate presentations on recycling, the environment, and proper disposal of hazardous waste, which they make in other Pearson schools and at open houses.
"Did you know that just one litre of oil can contaminate one million litres of drinking water?," Tomlinson asked.
Gelinas said just feeling like he belongs has turned his perspective on school completely around.
"It feels amazing," he said. "There are no wrong answers."
The Riverdale CFER program accepts donations of electronics that have outlived their usefulness, and can even come pick them up at your home or place of business. Call them at 514-684-2337 or visit them online at www.cferriverdale.org